by Colleen Cameron, MS, RN, Cardiovascular Disease Manager, Lourdes Hospital
Cardiovascular disease remains the number one global cause of death and is expected to continue to grow in the future 1. Heart disease alone causes about one in every six deaths in the United States, which is about one event every 34 seconds2. Stroke causes about one in every 19 deaths in the United States, which is an average of one stroke every 40 seconds2. Because of these growing numbers, many organizations have targeted strategies to help reduce preventable risk factors.
The American Heart Association has developed a list of “Life’s Simple 7” which addresses seven modifiable life changes to help reduce heart disease and stroke3. These seven changes include; no smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, managing blood pressure, taking charge of cholesterol and keeping blood sugar levels at healthy limits3.
Smoking can damage your lungs, heart, increase you risk for clots and harden your arteries3. Despite some progress that has been made, in 2011, 21.3% of men and 16.7% of women continued to be cigarette smokers2. Also, 18.1% of students in grades 9-12 reported cigarette use2. It is important to quit smoking so that your lungs can heal. You can call the NYS Department of Health Smokers Quit Line at 1-866-697-8487 or visit their website at www.nysmokefree.com for more information.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
It is also important to maintain a healthy weight. Your health care provider will keep track of your BMI (Body Mass Index). This number is based on your height and weight. It can tell you if you are at a healthy weight, overweight or obese. Obesity can be a major risk factor for developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, heart failure and other health conditions2. It is best to keep your number below 25. Diet and exercise are important in maintaining a healthy weight. Talk with your provider to help establish healthy goals for your weight.
Physical activity is very important to help maintain a healthy weight, decrease blood pressure, keep blood sugar levels under control and improve cholesterol. It is estimated that 68.2% of adults in the United States are overweight or obese2. For children 2-19 years of age, 31.8% are overweight or obese2. As mentioned above, it is important to engage in physically active to maintain a healthy weight. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, people need at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate physical activity a week2. Only about half the people in the United States meet these guidelines2. A few things you can do to increase your activity level are; take the stairs where possible, park further away from your destination, try to walk daily (even for only 10 minutes at a time), join an exercise class or schedule activities with friends. People who are physically active report better moods, less stress, more energy and a better outlook on life3.
Eating a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is important to maintain a strong heart, maintain weight, and decrease chances of diabetes and stroke. More than 90% of people fail to consistently eat a heart healthy diet3. It may be helpful to keep a journal to track your food choices or use a smartphone app to track habits. Eating a Mediterranean diet which is higher in vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, whole grains and fish has been found to decrease heart disease and stroke2. Healthy eating tips can be found on the American Heart Association’s website or by talking to your health care provider.
Managing Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. High blood pressure can put a strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys. It is important to keep your blood pressure under control and get it checked regularly. A normal blood pressure is no higher than 120/80. Prehypertension is untreated blood pressure of 120-139/80-89. Hypertension is a blood pressure of more than 140/90. Race, family history, diet and stress are just a few things that can affect your blood pressure. It is important to have regular visits with your health care provider to ensure your pressure remains within healthy limits. Your provider may also prescribe medications to help control your blood pressure. It is always important to take your medications as prescribed and carry a current list of your medications with you.
Taking Charge of Cholesterol and Keeping Blood Sugar Levels at Healthy Limits
It is also important to keep your cholesterol levels and blood sugar under control. Cholesterol can cause your arteries to get blocked if it is too high. LDL cholesterol is called the bad cholesterol and should be less than 100. Diet and exercise can help lower your cholesterol, but your health care provider may also add medications. Fasting blood sugar should also be below 100. When your blood sugar is high, it can indicate diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar can damage nerves, and blood vessels leading to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and dental problems. Again, your provider may add medications to help control your blood sugar. It is important to understand your medications and always take them as prescribed.
1 Smith, S. C. (2012). Our time: a call to save preventable death from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke). Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2343-2348.
2 Go, A. M. (2012). Heart disease and stroke statistics- 2013 update. Circulation, 6-245.